A Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions names a person (often with a back-up) to make health and medical decisions when a person is unable to make his/her wishes known to a doctor due to accident, injury, or general inability to process medical information. Power is only effective if/when that person is unable to give his/her own personal consent for treatment to the medical providers.
A Living Will (also sometimes called an Advanced Directive) is a legal declaration to physicians, hospitals, and family members regarding the continuation of medical care in the event an individual is in a terminal condition or prolonged coma.
After the documents have been signed, we recommend that the persons named as stand-by agents be informed of the existence of these documents, and that they be given a signed copy immediately. In addition, a copy should be given to treating physicians (most doctors and hospitals now maintain only electronic medical records, so a scan of the documents will be taken). Finally, when checking into a hospital, most institutions now ask for these documents. We typically make special “Physician Copies” of the documents so clients have a set that they can easily carry with them. A photocopy or scanned pdf copy of these documents should be honored without question.
Importantly, like any estate planning document, these documents can be revoked or changed at any time. In the event the person named in an existing health care power of attorney is not the desired person to make future health care choices that document should be revoked immediately and any doctor who was provided a copy of the out-of-date instrument should be informed of any revocation.